Colorado River near Glenwood Springs, Colorado

The Biden-Harris administration has announced next steps in the formal process to develop future operating guidelines and strategies to protect the stability and sustainability of the Colorado River system and strengthen water security in the West. The guidelines under development would be implemented in 2027, replacing the 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and the Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead, which are set to expire at the end of 2026.

The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation published the Proposed Federal Action and a Scoping Summary Report related to Colorado River Basin operations post-2026. The Scoping Report, which was supported by a 60-day public scoping period, will inform the post-2026 operating guidelines. This planning process is separate from ongoing efforts to protect the Colorado River Basin through the end of 2026.

These steps to protect the Colorado River Basin now and into the future will leverage the historic investments being deployed through President Biden’s Investing in America agenda to help increase water conservation, improve water efficiency, protect critical environmental resources, and prevent the Colorado River system’s reservoirs from falling to critically low elevations that would threaten water deliveries and power production. 

These actions form a key pillar of Bidenomics and represent the largest investment in climate resilience in the nation’s history. They provide pivotal resources to enhance the resilience of the West to drought and climate change, including to protect the short- and long-term sustainability of the Colorado River System. Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Reclamation is investing $8.3 billion over five years for water infrastructure projects, including water purification and reuse, water storage and conveyance, desalination and dam safety. 

The Inflation Reduction Act is investing an additional $4.6 billion to address the historic drought, including by funding water conservation efforts across the Colorado River Basin.

“President Biden’s Investing in America agenda has deployed historic investments as we’ve worked collaboratively with states, Tribes and communities throughout the West to find consensus solutions in the face of climate change and sustained drought,” said Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau. “As the Department works with those partners to stabilize the Colorado River in the short-term, we are also committed to ensuring the long-term sustainability of the Basin for decades to come based on the best-available science and with robust input from stakeholders across the West.”

The Colorado River Basin provides essential water supplies to approximately 40 million people and 30 Tribal Nations, nearly 5.5 million acres of agricultural lands, and habitat for ecological resources across parts of several Western states (including Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) and Mexico. But prolonged drought, driven by climate change and coupled with low runoff conditions in the last several years, resulted in historically low reservoir levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

The post-2026 planning process builds on the Biden-Harris administration’s ongoing efforts to protect the Colorado River Basin. Earlier this year, Administration leaders brought together stakeholders from across the Basin to build a consensus for water conservation efforts through the end of 2026, enabled by investments from the President’s Investing in America agenda. 

By the end of October, the Department will issue a draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to revise the December 2007 Record of Decision, which will set interim guidelines through the end of 2026. The post-2026 process being advanced today will develop guidelines for when those interim guidelines would expire.

“The Colorado River Basin has come together over the past year to create a consensus path in the short term that now allows us to focus on the future. Today’s next steps for post-2026 planning helps continue the momentum between all stakeholders across the Basin on what the future operations of this critical system will look like,” said Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “As the range of alternatives is developed, Reclamation is committed to a collaborative, inclusive and transparent process with our partners, stakeholders and the public.